Submitted by Melissa Myers, Associate Head of School
Remember when you were a child and the holidays were perfect--the table was always filled with good things to eat, your whole family gathered around wishing each other a season filled with peace and goodwill; the house was warm, the desserts were sweet, the presents lovely and the room candlelit until you fell gently asleep with a smile still lingering on your face.
Yeah, I don’t remember that either.
The fact is that, no matter what our past holidays have been like (and most of us can conjure up at least one instance when a family member screamed at another during the holidays) we still seem to hold very high expectations for this season.
We spend weeks shopping for presents and preparing for long, exhaustive trips on planes or in cars to see grandparents and cousins--some just this one time a year--and we want peace and harmony to rein. What we often get, instead, are cranky kids and teenagers who would rather be at home, with their friends, on a couch, on social media, watching YouTube, hanging by their toenails, getting a cavity drilled, or pretty much anything else in the world other than being with relatives for what seems, to them (and often to all present) like the longest, most boring, or most stressful time of the whole damn year.
At the risk of sounding Scrooge-like, we talk a lot about The Most Wonderful Time of the Year around these parts. It’s a dark humor conversation at our faculty meetings--personally, I do a lot of dirge caroling and sending emails to remind staff that Krampus is coming--but it’s important for all of us to keep in mind that the holidays are often a disruptive and stressful time for our students for a whole host of reasons. Here are some of the issues that we are particularly attentive to:
Students who have experienced trauma: Unfortunately, family tragedies, illnesses, and deaths are particularly vivid and impactful during the holidays. Loved ones are noticeably missing from holiday gatherings. It’s common for people to displace or project stress and sadness. This is a good opportunity for your mother-in-law to acknowledge that your portion of mashed potatoes is definitely contributing to your recent weight gain.
We’re careful not to assume that all our students are super-excited to be reminded of the loss in their lives.
Change of routine: We can’t underestimate this enough. Your child probably doesn’t always bound out of bed, bright and early, to get to school everyday; however, they do thrive on routine. Their teachers will always nag for their phones in the morning, 3rd period is always the same time everyday, friends are predictably goofy during lunchtime, sports and after-school activities are pre-scheduled. Then we take 2.5 weeks off of school. And kids are supposed to love it! That’s a lot of change and a lot of pressure.
We can provide kids with work over the breaks if parents want it, and it’s good to remind our students that--if they need us--many of us are just as bored, stressed, or avoidant as anyone else. We’ll check our email. We’ll say “Hi” to your kids or just listen if they want to vent. You’d be surprised how many of your sons and daughters send us emails over the breaks. It’s pretty great, actually.
Growing up: Our oldest high school students feel this the most, as they contemplate where they will be at this time next year. Many are anxiously waiting for college acceptance letters or are still formulating a plan for after graduation. They may mourn the loss of their childhood, find themselves trying to cope with new divorce situations during the holidays, or they might worry that they won’t have a “home” to come back to next year when they are away from college.
Remind them, often, that the average age that Millennials leave the home is 28. Then help them find a seasonal job.
And while you’re at it, take good care of yourself during the holidays. Try to build in time to relax or, at least, to lower your expectations. It’s OK if you forget to give someone a gift; that’s what re-gifting is for. If your kids act up, try to empathize with them, or at least threaten to break into their Snapchat accounts if they don’t knock it off. Here's a great resource for supporting young ones during the holidays. And always remember that eggnog has more alcohol in it than you think it does.